Geo Engineering Takes a Hit

If you’ve been paying attention to the climate change field of play you’ll have noticed an odd bunch of geeks, some of whom think climate change is a problem and some of whom doubt it, but all of whom turn to enormous, grandiose schemes to deal with it — such as giant space mirrors to reflect back sunlight, or digging up mountains of one kind of stone to react with CO2 and turn it into another kind of stone. Geoengineering is what this is called, and it gets some kinds of people all excited. In fact, President George W. Bush, after pulling the US out of the Kyoto protocol, convened a meeting of just such types to toss around just such ideas. [From which you can sort of guess how comforted you ought to feel.]

Nor will it comfort you to know the Edward Teller, father of the H Bomb, proposed a “sunscreen” for earth back in 1998.

A tiny little nick in one idea appeared this past week. The idea is: sow certain parts of the ocean with iron filings, which will encourage algal blooms, thereby absorbing CO2, which would then sink to the bottom, trapping the the CO2 for eternity less a day. In fact there have been some pilot programs to look into the feasibility of such an endeavor.

It turns out that at least one species of algae responds by upping its output of a neurotoxin [domic acid] which, if absorbed up the food chain, as would be expected, would [and has] damage[d] human beings. You think mercury is a problem!

The amounts of domoic acid produced don’t rise to levels known to be toxic to krill and other species that feed on Pseudonitzschia, Trick notes. And the areas where iron fertilization would typically take place are relatively barren zones far from fisheries. Nevertheless, he notes, the effects of long-term exposure to low levels of the neurotoxin are unknown.

The new study is “less a prediction of ecological doom than it is a lesson about not knowing the consequences of our actions {bold by ed.],” Trick adds.

In nearshore areas where nutrients are plentiful, algae of the genus Pseudonitzschia — diatoms that release domoic acid as they proliferate — sometimes undergo harmful blooms, Trick says. But open-ocean species of Pseudonitzschia have previously been considered nontoxic.

Algae Seeding

More coverage: SF Gate;

Rabbits in Australia were not a great idea. Neurotoxin generating algae seems far worse. It would be great if the small, do-able steps to lessen our output of CO2 were taken now and increased over time, instead of like a hard-drinking and disorganized wagon train we set off into the wild west, hoping the cavalry would come to the rescue if anything [predictably] bad should happen.

It is entirely likely that the current generation will not deal with CO2 accumulation and some extraordinary scheme will have to be used fifty years from now. Thirty foot seawalls may have to be built around Manhattan! And, so I’m glad smart guys are thinking about crazy ideas. It makes me really nervous however, when such ideas are tossed off with nonchalance as Plan A [easy-peasy!] instead of Plan Z to be put into effect when there really is no other choice. You can bet your last tin of sardines that a Teller-like plan to umbrella the earth will not softly land the crisis. Benefits (if any) and pain (surely) will be unevenly and unpredictably distributed. The wealthy, what ever the distribution, will come out better. The Greenwich, CT millionaires, in almost any conceivable scenario, will come out better than the Bangladesh rice farmers….

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